The International Olympic Committee today begins their four-day tour of Madrid, Spain as they inspect the second of three finalists to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Madrid’s bid provides likely the most assurances for aquatic sports. The existing Aquatic Centres there, built for previous bids, hold 5,200 (diving and water polo) and 16,500 (swimming) in permanent seating, whereas bids for Tokyo (already inspected) and Istanbul would need the most construction.
That is the primary story of the Spanish bid. Though the country has hit economic woes, their bid would incorporate 27 already existing venues, making up 78% of the proposal.
Among the acknowledged challenges for this bid are traffic congestion, albeit this is a recurring theme of most summer Olympic bids given the sizes of the cities that they are located in. There is no innovative solution, per se, for Madrid; they have proposed to solve this problem simply by limiting the use of private cars and encouraging the use of a fairly ample public transportation system. They will also produce a single traffic control center, under the umbrella of the organizing committee, that will communicate with the entire public transportation network, as well as designated Olympic vehicles that will transport athletes and officials to events.
A big plus for Madrid is its relative safety: both from natural catastrophes and crime. It is one of the safer major metropolitan areas in the world; Spain’s rate of criminal offense rate (45.1 per 1000 residents) is only about two-thirds of what we see on the European average; with pickpocketing seeming to be the major concern in Madrid, as in most major cities.
The bid also points out that Madrid, in its history, has not suffered any natural catastrophe. Ever. The risks of hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are “practically inexsitent,” meaning that concerns about a potential natural disaster disrupting the games, or the runup there-to, are limited: especially rare for a city with so much coastline as Spain has.
That lies in stark contrast to Japan, which had the infamously devastating earthquake in 2011. That was not necessarily an isolated event, either; since the beginning of the 20th century, Japan has averaged at least an earthquake causing over 100 deaths about once per decade., with several other causing large swathes of damage.
Istanbul has much less frequent earthquakes of that level of destruction (most of Turkey’s larger earthquakes fall in the country’s Central and Eastern regions), but the risk is still there, with history of the 1509 Istanbul earthquake lingering. The quake killed 10,000 people, caused a huge tsunami, and included 45 days of aftershocks. The debate over the risk of a repeat earthquake on the ancient global crossroads city, though, has really heated up in the last decade or so.
The biggest disaster concern in Madrid is over terrorist attacks, following the 2004 train bombings: a coordinated attack by an “al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell.” It is believed that the organization ETA was responsible for the bombings: a domestic terrorist organization whose goal is to create an independent Basque nation in northern Spain. The ETA in 2011 declared “a definitive cessation of armed activities,” though the United States Department of State indicates that the Spanish government is still leery of the reality of that cease-fire, given the failure of the organization to disarm. Still, the state department acknowledges that their activities are mostly against government officials rather than the general populace.
There have been many major protests in Spain with its economic struggles as of late, including the 15-M movement. Much like the American “occupy” movement, however, these have been predominantly civil disobedience protests, so the risk there is more in disruption of movement rather than any violent harm.
Overall, Madrid seems like a safe choice for the games, albeit a fairly conservative one from a cultural perspective compared to the possible wonder of their competitors in Tokyo and Istanbul. Madrid’s population is roughly 3.5 million, while Tokyo and Isatnbul both ride between 13 and 14 million. Right now, the biggest concerns for the IOC should be the financial risk, though the IOC President Jacques Rogge said on Sunday to the daily El Mundo that “In the case of Madrid … the crisis does not affect it, because what is substantial has almost all been built, no big investments are necessary.”
This is an interesting public show of support from the IOC ahead of their visit, and as alluded to above speaks to the preparation owed Madrid by several previous bids for the Games in the last few decades.
On a softer, note, while all three cities have truly stunning architecture (and each in their own way), Madrid’s should not be undervalued against the impressive high rises of Tokyo or the ancient construction of Istanbul.
To read the full Spanish bid, click this link. (If you have the time, I highly encourage it, as these documentations are quite an interesting view into the ways that cities try to sell themselves for these major events).